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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“Penetrating Knowledge and Attacking Mysteries: The Cases of Dracula and Dora”


I look at how two works of the fin de siècle, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Sigmund Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, illustrate a gynaecologically-influenced desire to penetrate the mysteries of female sexuality. Penetration in Dracula ranges from vampiric biting to the sexually charged blood transfusions and extravagantly violent stakings that Dr. Van Helsing commands. Freud’s penetration of Dora is a subtler, yet equally antagonistic attempt to combat the mystery hysteria poses by combating the woman who represents it. I look at images of penetration, both dramatically enacted and metaphorical, and the ways in which they concern knowledge acquisition. The production of knowledge is shown as a form of penetration: a thrusting of one’s ideology into the body of the mystery, through the gaze, psychological examination, or physical probing. In both texts, this penetration uncovers still more penetration, as the pathologized sexualities represented by hysteria and vampirism are traced to predatory male influences such as Herr K. and Count Dracula. Doctors in both texts create spaces in which they are sanctioned to penetrate or attack mysteries through penetrating or attacking women, and their methods are analogous to those of the predatory male forces. This results in a complex construction of female bodies as open or closed spaces to be penetrated or protected, depending on the situation and the man who desires access.

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